On the night she met The Man Who Took Up All The Space the world had allocated him, she’d been pining for The Man Who Loved Her But Was Afraid. She’d gone to the fête to remind herself what it was to have a life that didn’t depend on the whims of someone else. When she saw The Man Who Took Up All The Space holding court with a group of women, she wanted to make room for herself there too. She asked the friend whose fête it was to introduce them. The Man Who Took Up All The Space was visiting and only in town for another day, he told her later, over a rum and coke and the throbbing bass of old-school dub tumbling aggressively from speakers taller than them. It was all he could give her, he said, the direction of their acquaintance taken for granted. It was all she could manage, she replied.
That night they had sex, and the moon was full, the land was dry, and the last of the winter winds rasped across the valley. They kept the doors to her veranda open and could hear the ocean below. He said he could smell the sea between her legs as they scrambled on the tile, said the blood in his knees sang. He thought himself a poet. He moved to climb her body, but she put her heel into his shoulder and pushed. He pushed back. They danced this way for a while, the bass still thrumming through their bodies. When he entered her, he put his thumb against the pulse of her throat and pressed. They fucked until the air was at its coolest and the nightsong had suspended in the pause before sunrise.
From the pillow of her belly he hissed that she was his. She basked in the belonging. A fire on the horizon soon licked at their limbs, and he slipped over her into slumber. His body was bullish and thick on top of hers. She struggled to breathe but did not move from under him. She kneaded the cords of his arms, spelled out the scars on his rough skin with her fingers, and composed a narrative for them. She fell asleep and dreamed about their daughter. When she woke, she found him sitting with his knees drawn to his chest, scribbling into a small, black notebook with elastic around it. She drove him to the airport and waited at the fence to watch his plane get swallowed by the clouds.
After The Man Who Took Up All The Space left, she kept the soiled sheets on the bed and conjured him each morning in the burn of sunrise, until his scent had gone too. She kept the half-finished beer he’d been drinking on the veranda until the rains came and questioned his ever having been there. She poured the watered-down liquid over the banister and watched it disappear into the cracks of the parched earth. She bought a notebook, small and black, with an elastic around it, and observed the awakening world like a scientist. She wrote e-mails to him and said things like, Your voice still vibrates in my belly. He wrote back and said things like, I still ache where you bit my shoulder.
With a friend she shared her theory of space: if it is that the world allocates us a certain amount when we are born, he fills his entirely, and strains against the boundaries. Her friend looked at her askew. But she was too busy thinking of their daughter, the giantess, to notice. That night she thought of The Man Who Loved Her But Was Afraid. She saw the limp boundaries of his allocated space collapse against his shrinking frame. She thought how grateful she was for his fear.
One day she felt the moment she grew into her own space. She was waiting to cross the road, shoulders back, spine straight. Cars stopped to let her pass. That afternoon she walked to the beach below her house and took a sea bath like a baptism. She came home, peeled onions and seeded peppers for supper as an act of communion.
Sometimes she saw The Man Who Loved Her But Was Afraid. He once came up to her at a restaurant, kissed her cheek like nothing had passed between them, and wished her well. She knew he was still afraid, so she kissed him back and wished him the same.
The summer storms had come before the tautness slackened between her and The Man Who Took Up All The Space. She tried to blow breath back into their correspondence, but the winds were preoccupied, forming hurricanes on the horizon. She drank a beer out on the veranda on a moonlit night, let her hand part her wrap to find the tight wetness between her legs. She looked across the sea and invoked his body and his name. The next morning, the roar of a garbage truck straining up the hill woke her. Her body was stiff and cold on the tile. She stood up, worried she had shrunk.
One day, after the bamboo cannons had started sounding in the hills, The Man Who Loved Her But Was Afraid bounded up her stairs. He courted her with flowers and said he’d been a fool. He was trying to fill up the space the world had allocated him. She searched his eyes for fire but then decided she was tired of being burned. She took his flowers and his words and arranged them in a vase that she kept in the front window. When they came together in bed, there was no thrum of bass. After, he kissed the pulse in her throat and whispered against it. He said he loved her, like it was a prize. She fell asleep beside him and dreamed of a bull with its nostrils flared. In the morning The Man Who Loved Her And Was No Longer Afraid said he’d dreamed of their daughter.
She said to her friend, I’m tired of chasing drama; this is what I need. Her friend looked at her askew. But she was too busy thinking of names for their daughter to notice. She went home and chopped onions and seeded peppers, cooked supper as her penance.
One day she dropped an earring in the car. She kneeled in the gravel of the driveway and searched the floor, lifted the mats and checked between the seat and the handbrake. She found the earring under the mat, and a notebook by the brake. It looked much like a notebook she herself carried. It was small and black and had an elastic around it. She opened the book and saw written in the front, the name of The Man Who Took Up All The Space. She slumped into the seat and wiped the gravel from her knees. They bore the impressions of the stones. She traced the patterns for a moment before she opened the book.
As she flipped through the notebook, she became aware of a flutter in her chest that she hadn’t realised had been gone until it came back. She would be late for The Man Who Loved Her And Was No Longer Afraid, but she could not make herself move. She sat in the car and smelled the salt of the sea and felt the burn of the sun, and sifted through the detritus of The Man Who Took Up All The Space. There were budgets and to-do lists, drawings and drafts of poems, and the words, If it’s not on the Internet, it doesn’t exist. At the end of the notebook, there was an alphabetical list of names. Girls’ names, she realised. She touched the pillow of her belly and thought of her daughter, the giantess. She read: Adele, Ayodele, Barbie (she didn’t like that one) Brenda, Carol, Charon, Cathy, Deidre and Diana and Diana, and Diana. Her blood sang in her knees and her head ran hot. She scanned the list for her own name, found it in the ink of her own pen, squeezed onto a line that was already full. Not her daughter’s names but the names of other people’s daughters. The sick surged in her stomach, threatened to crest on the dash.
That night, she started a fight with The Man Who Loved Her And Was No Longer Afraid. She told him that he didn’t control her. She said every mistake she’d ever made had made her who she was. He said he knew that and there wasn’t anything to quarrel about, why was she looking for a fight? So she leaned over his chair and stroked him through his pants. He took her hand away and brought it to his lips. What’s this really about, he asked. She held on to her silence like it was everything. The tree frogs filled up all the empty space.
When she was certain he was asleep, she reached for her notebook from her bag and started a list of her own. She faltered, wondered if kissing would count. She thumbed through the rest of the notebook and found an old shopping list, to do lists, drafts of poems and an invocation she’d written when first she bought it: Pray, floss, be kind.
In the morning The Man Who Loved Her And Was No Longer Afraid was sitting up in bed, his knees pulled to his chest. She came up onto her elbows and looked up at his face, it glowed with the sunrise. The Christmas winds are here, he whispered. What do you think of Rose, she asked. He kissed her and she kissed him back, and between them, a daughter began to grow into the space the world had allocated her.
Katherine Atkinson is a Saint Lucian writer. Her work has been published in The Caribbean Writer and sx salon and by the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association. She was a finalist for the Hollick Arvon fiction prize in 2013.